Chipotle Warns Of Store Changes As COVID-19 Surges

On October 31, Brian Niccol, Chipotle's chief executive officer, explained to Bloomberg that Chipotle has had to temporarily reduce its store hours in some locations or, in more extreme circumstances, halt operation due to their workers contracting COVID-19. The emphasis given had less to do with health concerns, however, than logistics: "When employees start coming down with Covid at these high percentages, it just makes staffing much more challenging than what it was six months ago," Niccol said. Chipotle simply lacks the manpower to maintain its full operations.

Still, from Niccol's perspective, Chipotle has weathered the coronavirus pandemic better than most, keeping its infection rate below the national average. But as cases of COVID-19 surge once again, fast food workers may be in more danger than most. And, as Vox laments in a recent piece covering this newest wave, indoor dining could encourage the spread of the coronavirus. That said, Chipotle has a better delivery system than other brands that depend on sit-down meals.

However, even though Chipotle is better suited to a distanced dining environment, the pandemic has taken its toll on the brand's bottom line by affecting other aspects of the industry. On October 21, Reuters reported that Chipotle suffered an 18.6 percent drop in profit over the third financial quarter. While the company, which Reuters described as "one of the best performers in the restaurant sector," lost 6 percent of shares after a year presiding over a 60 percent increase. The main issue for the company was the raised cost of beef and delivery.

Driving through the pandemic at Chipotle

Even amidst the drop in profit, Reuters acknowledged that the burrito chain was thriving due to online Chipotle sales. The benefits Chipotle would reap were obvious to observers as far back as April 23, if not even earlier, when Alicia Kelso for Forbes noted that Chipotle would emerge from the devastation in a stronger position due to its digital presence. The strongest aspect of Chipotle's tech-focused position is the Chipotlane. Chipotlanes, as The Spoon explained, are Chipotle's high-tech drive-thrus that specifically fulfill orders conducted through the Chipotle app. Doing this means that the meal will be ready for pick up by the time the customer arrives, reducing time spent getting the food. In July, Chipotle announced in a press release that it would be pivoting its entire efforts to the Chipotlane structure.

Of course, Chipotle is not the only brand to recognize the benefits of the drive-thru during the pandemic. Markets Insider wrote a survey piece on November 4th that showed that "Post-pandemic, the fast-food landscape will be skewed even farther in the direction of the drive-thru, with a new emphasis on mobile ordering and predictive technology." However, lest you get too enthralled with the brave new world of smartphone drive-thrus, Starbucks, one of the companies developing their drive-thrus further, found that when indoor seating was offered once more, customers flocked to sit down. While COVID-19 has rendered indoor dining difficult, it will remain an aspect of eating in the future.